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Gravel & Shea Attorneys Win Land Use Decision at Vermont Supreme Court

trees

Attorneys Bob O’Neill and Matt Stern won a major land use victory for their client with the Vermont Supreme Court’s recent decision in In re Wagner & Guay Permit. O’Neill and Stern represented a property owner in Grand Isle who received a building permit from the local Development Review Board but faced a permit appeal to the Environmental Division of the Vermont Superior Court and ultimately to the Vermont Supreme Court.

At issue in the case was whether the intended location of a new residence in a subdivision purchased and subdivided by the property owner in 1995 satisfied the conditions of the original permit. The Grand Isle Planning Commission approved the 1995 plat plan, which included a provision intended to keep the rural character of the area. To that end, the plat plan and the resulting permit stated that houses on the lots in question must be built within the tree line.

When the property owner recently received a permit from the Development Review Board to build a new residence on two of the undeveloped lots subject to the tree line condition, an adjoining neighbor appealed the permit on the grounds that the plans for the new residence did not satisfy that requirement. At trial, the Environmental Division heard testimony from three Gravel & Shea witnesses, including the town zoning administrator and an expert engineer. During cross examination by Gravel & Shea attorneys, experts for the neighbor – two of their five witnesses – conceded that the property owner’s interpretation of the plat plan and permit was the more appropriate one. Finding the property owner’s testimony most credible, the Environmental Division ruled in favor of Gravel & Shea and upheld the permit.

The neighbor disputing the permit appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court. On appeal, the Court rejected the neighbor’s assertion that the lower court should have construed any ambiguous language against the drafter. Instead, the Court accepted Gravel & Shea’s argument that the lower court’s interpretation of the permit to satisfy the intent of the drafter was correct. As such, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s approval of the permit, and the property owner is now able to move forward with seeking any additional permits and building a house on the property.

Eleven Gravel & Shea Attorneys Recognized By Best Lawyers®

Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers Award BadgeHeather Hammond

 
The prestigious legal ranking organization Best Lawyers® has recognized eleven Gravel & Shea partners as leaders in their field, including them in the 2017 edition of New England’s Best Lawyers. In addition, Best Lawyers recognizes a single Lawyer of the Year for each practice and geographic area, those with the highest overall peer feedback for a specific specialty and location. Heather Rider Hammond was recognized as the Litigation – Labor and Employment “Lawyer of the Year” for Burlington.

The Gravel & Shea 2017 attorneys honored by Best Lawyers are:

Peter S. Erly

  • Corporate Law
  • Mergers and Acquisitions Law
  • Securities / Capital Markets Law
  • Securities Regulation

Timothy M. Eustace

  • Litigation – Real Estate

Michelle N. Farkas

  • Real Estate Law
  • Employment Law – Management
  • Litigation – Labor and Employment

Robert B. Hemley

  • Bet-the-Company Litigation
  • Commercial Litigation
  • Criminal Defense: General Practice
  • Criminal Defense: White-Collar
  • First Amendment Law
  • Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions – Plaintiffs
  • Medical Malpractice Law – Plaintiffs
  • Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs

William A. Mason

  • Corporate Governance Law
  • Corporate Law

Margaret L. Montgomery

  • Corporate Law
  • Mergers and Acquisitions Law

Jerome F. O’Neill

  • Commercial Litigation
  • Criminal Defense: White-Collar
  • Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs

Robert F. O’Neill

  • Commercial Litigation
  • Criminal Defense: General Practice
  • Criminal Defense: White-Collar
  • Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs

Robert H. Rushford

  • Real Estate Law

Norman Williams

  • Appellate Practice
  • Mass Tort Litigation / Class Actions – Plaintiffs

Heather Rider Hammond

  • Litigation – Labor and Employment

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. Over 83,000 leading attorneys globally are eligible to vote, and we have received more than 13 million votes to date on the legal abilities of other lawyers based on their specific practice areas around the world. For the 2017 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America©, 7.3 million votes were analyzed, which resulted in almost 55,000 leading lawyers being included in the new edition. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

Gravel & Shea Attorneys Named 2016 Super Lawyers

Super Lawyers

Super Lawyers Logo

Seven Gravel & Shea attorneys were selected for recognition by Super Lawyers 2016. Super Lawyers provides a credible resource for attorneys and consumers seeking legal counsel by making annual recommendations based on a patented, multiphase selection process. Five percent of the attorneys in Vermont are chosen as Super Lawyers each year, and 2.5% are chosen as Rising Stars.

This year’s recognized Super Lawyers are:

Robert B. Hemley (10th consecutive recognition)

  • General Litigation
  • Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice and General

Jerome F. O’Neill (10th consecutive recognition)

  • Personal Injury, Products and General
  • General Litigation

Robert F. O’Neill (5th consecutive recognition)

  • Medical Malpractice
  • Family Law
  • Criminal Defense

Robert H. Rushford (2nd recognition)

  • Real Estate
  • Environmental

Rising-Stars

The 2016 Rising Stars, chosen from a pool of attorneys who are under 40 and/or have been practicing for fewer than 10 years, are:

David A. Boyd

  • Business Litigation

Pauline Law

  • Securities & Corporate Finance
  • Intellectual Property
  • Employment & Labor
  • Business/Corporate

Ethan B. McLaughlin (3rd consecutive recognition)

  • Business/Corporate
  • Energy & Natural Resources
  • Mergers & Acquisitions

To find out more about Super Lawyers and Gravel & Shea’s recognized attorneys, click here.

Associate David Boyd Provides Education on Embezzlement

Embezzlement
Business Vermont interviewed Gravel & Shea Associate David Boyd last month about ways employers can protect themselves from embezzlement after he partnered with the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce to present a fraud prevention seminar for business owners and operators. Since a recent high profile case in the area, the issue has been top of mind for many Vermont businesses.

David, who has handled a number of fraud cases and recognized the need for education among employers, focuses on two stages of prevention: (1) early steps to limit the potential for employee fraud and (2) actions to take if employee fraud is suspected that may reduce the negative impact.

David recommends that companies take a hard look at their assets, either financial or equipment-related, and determine which are most vulnerable. Companies should ask themselves a number of questions: What is our most difficult asset to track? What asset would be easiest for someone to take without our quickly realizing? Those assets need regular tracking and monitoring, which can sometimes seem challenging for smaller businesses. David points out that preventative measures don’t have to be complex. For instance, a business owner could make a habit of reconciling bank statements themselves or could have different employees perform spot checks of financial documents.

In many instances, cases that end up in litigation could have been avoided by instituting separate functions so that a single person within the company was not receiving funds, creating invoices, and paying balances. “Consolidation of functions gives one person a lot of room to be creative,” says David.

For an employer who suspects that embezzlement has occurred, the key is a quick and thorough investigatory process. David, who began his career in the white collar and regulatory investigations practice group at a large New York law firm, encourages business owners to immediately ask themselves a number of questions: What documents would be helpful to me? Which employees should I interview? Does the fraud I suspect raise criminal or regulatory concerns?

Bringing in an attorney may be the first step for any company dealing with employee fraud. An attorney can help a company facing criminal or regulatory exposure understand the risks it is facing and conduct a thorough investigation. An attorney can also provide credibility for a company attempting to resolve issues raised by government agencies.

For those who want to bring an action against a bank or financial institution that handled embezzled funds, the legal framework is complicated and often provides extremely short time frames for bringing suit. “When it happens, everyone just wants to put it behind them,” David says. No one wants to believe their company could be susceptible, but a few simple steps can help reduce the odds of a potentially disastrous outcome for employers.

Gravel & Shea Gleans for the Vermont Foodbank

Vermont Foodbank GleaningMore than ten Gravel & Shea attorneys, staff and family members donned their boots and gloves for an afternoon of harvesting at the Intervale Community Farm last week. As part of the Vermont Foodbank Gleaning Program, they were tasked with picking kale and collard greens from several long rows of the leafy green vegetables, scheduled to be plowed under the next day.

Gleaning is the process of harvesting and gathering excess or “seconds” produce that would otherwise go to waste, often because of minor visual imperfections or because of a larger crop than a farm was able to sell. The collected produce is then distributed to food shelves and meal sites around the state. Andrea Solazzo, the Gleaning and Community Outreach Coordinator at the Vermont Foodbank, told the group of volunteers that local produce is a high demand item at the Chittenden County Food Shelf. The Gleaning Program is a critical element of the Foodbank’s ability to make sure that food-insecure residents have access to nutritious ingredients.

Jeff Polubinski, an associate at Gravel & Shea, spearheaded the event as part of the firm’s continuing commitment to engage in ongoing relationships with local nonprofits. Recognizing the necessity of the Vermont Foodbank’s work in a state where hunger is still a serious problem, the firm is proud to support their mission of ensuring that all Vermonters have access to food every day. “It’s great to spend an afternoon outdoors connecting with my coworkers while we’re all doing something good for the community,” Polubinksi said.

The group picked over 500 pounds of kale and collard greens.

Gravel & Shea To Offer Paid Parental Leave

FMLA

Gravel & Shea will now offer four weeks of paid parental leave to any eligible employee upon the birth or adoption of a baby. Employees become eligible after working at the firm for one year.

In compliance with Vermont’s parental and family leave law, Gravel & Shea provides up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to new parents, to be used at any time within the first twelve months after the birth or adoption of a baby. The firm also offered, and continues to offer, self-funded short-term disability coverage that employees can use to cover the loss of income during an extended leave period. Under the firm’s new paid parental leave policy, parents will be able to take four weeks of paid leave during the 12-week statutory leave period.

Paid parental leave is uncommon among Vermont companies, and Gravel & Shea saw an opportunity to be a leader in the community by recognizing the realities of caring for a new child and the importance of family.

“We wanted to support our employees in creating the lives outside the office that sustain them for the important work they do inside the office,” said Bob Rushford, Managing Partner of Gravel & Shea. “We really do think of Gravel & Shea as a big family. When we find great people, we want them here to stay.”

U.S. District Court Grants Summary Judgment for Amtrak in Wrongful Death Case

Amtrak and NECR 2

Gravel & Shea attorneys Bob Hemley and Navah Spero successfully obtained the dismissal of a wrongful death case against Amtrak and the New England Central Railway in U.S. District Court. On June 20, 2016, Judge William Sessions awarded summary judgment to all defendants on all claims in a 25-page decision.

In their complaint, Plaintiffs asserted that negligence on the part of Amtrak and New England Central Railway had resulted in the death of a 15-year old boy who was struck by an Amtrak passenger train while crossing private tracks near his home in Vernon, Vermont. Plaintiffs claimed that Amtrak failed to blow the train’s horn long or loud enough and failed to brake the train to avoid the collision. Their complaints against New England Central Railway related to sight lines and warnings at the track.

Hemley and Spero argued that the Plaintiff had failed to present evidence sufficient to allow any reasonable jury to conclude that the death was the defendants’ responsibility. The case involved complex issues of railroad practice, analysis of train movement and an investigation into the boy’s behavior. In finding for the Defendants, the Court analyzed expert testimony from both parties and relied heavily on factual evidence, including a video recording of the incident made by the camera on the front of the train as well as measurements of the train speed and location that the train activated the emergency brake. The recording showed the train blowing its horn multiple times for 21 of the 30 seconds prior to the incident, and measurements indicated the train could not have slowed quickly enough to avoid a collision after the boy came into sight. In light of that and other evidence, the Court found that no reasonable juror could have determined the death was Amtrak’s or New England Central Railway’s responsibility.

The granting of summary judgment in a personal injury case is rare, but in this case, based on the arguments presented, the Court determined it was warranted.

Gravel & Shea Recognized As Leading Law Firm by Chambers & Partners

Chambers Ranking + Partners

Chambers & Partners issued its annual rankings of law firms and lawyers by state, with Gravel & Shea once again recognized as one of the top firms in Vermont. As a credible source of guidance for more than 25 years, Chambers & Partners assesses law firms on technical legal ability, professional conduct, client service, commercial astuteness, diligence, commitment and other qualities most valued by clients. Individual lawyers are ranked (in their practice area(s)) on the basis of their legal knowledge and experience, their ability, their effectiveness and their client-service. The Chambers USA guide is widely used by firms and businesses to provide quality counsel and to provide referrals.

Gravel & Shea received the top ranking (Band 1) in three areas in the Chambers USA Guide and one in the Chambers High Net Worth Guide. In Chambers USA, the featured practice areas are: Corporate/Commercial, Real Estate and Litigation: General Commercial. Partner Heather Rider Hammond was also recognized for her labor and employment practice.

Corporate/Commercial

“With an impressive track record across a broad range of business law matters, areas of excellence include M&A, finance, taxation and construction law.”

Recognized Attorneys:
Peter S. Erly
William A. Mason, IV

Litigation: General Commercial

Gravel & Shea has “a top-tier litigation practice covering an impressive range of contentious commercial matters, including intellectual property disputes, trust litigation and general business disputes.”

Recognized Attorneys:
Matthew B. Byrne
Robert B. Hemley

Real Estate

Gravel & Shea has a “prominent practice covering a broad range of real estate matters, including transactional matters and development work with respect to residential, commercial or mixed-use properties.”

Recognized Attorneys:
Timothy M. Eustace
Michelle N. Farkas
Robert H. Rushford

Chambers & Partners also recognized Gravel & Shea Partner Jeanne C. Blackmore as a leading Vermont attorney in its inaugural High Net Worth Guide, aimed at providing recommendations on the world’s best lawyers to the international private wealth market. Both Jeanne Blackmore as an individual attorney and Gravel & Shea as a firm are featured in the Guide.

Jeanne Blackmore

Jeanne Blackmore joined Gravel & Shea in 2009 after practicing for over ten years in Ernst & Young’s National Office tax practice. Jeanne focuses her practice on tax and estate planning, probate and trust administration, and general business taxation.

In recognizing Gravel & Shea as a Band 1 firm, the High Net Worth Guide states, “Gravel & Shea guides clients in estate planning matters, drafting wills and trusts, estate and gift tax minimization and charitable planning. The firm also handles trust and estate litigation, representing beneficiaries, executors and administrators.” In addition, the firm has a Family Business Succession Planning Group, which represents families in the sale of businesses, buy-sell and life insurance planning, defective trust planning and other multi-generational business succession planning.

From Chambers High Net Worth Guide and Chambers USA.

Gravel & Shea Participates in Spelling Bee!

Gravel & Shea won second place at the 20th annual Zonta Club Spelling Bee, held on May 19, 2016 at Champlain College. Attorneys Petra Halsema, Pauline Law and Navah Spero participated in this fundraiser for the Single Parents Program at Champlain College, which provides support for single parents so they may successfully complete their college education. The trio faced stiff competition from over ten other teams and lived up to their motto, “Lawyers Who Can Spell!”

Gravel & Shea Sponsors the Vermont Women’s Fund

Vermont Women's Fund - Change the Story

Gravel & Shea was a proud Platinum Sponsor for the 2016 Vermont Women’s Fund annual fundraising event. This year’s event focused on Change The Story, a Vermont-based initiative committed to advancing women’s economic security in Vermont. Gravel & Shea has supported the Vermont Women’s Fund for over a decade and is proud to be considered a stakeholder. Click here for more information about the Vermont Women’s Fund and here to view a video about Change The Story.